Commentary: Marijuana jeopardizes highway safety

In light of the introduction of House Bill 110, AAA Mid-Atlantic calls on members of the Delaware General Assembly to oppose House Bill 110 because of the negative implications to road safety caused by the commercialization of marijuana (as experienced by other states, including Washington, Oregon, and Colorado) and to protect families on our highways and streets.

AAA strongly advocates for the safety of drivers, passengers and pedestrians by opposing House Bill 110. We have more data now than we did two years ago showing that crashes related to marijuana use increase after a state legalizes recreational marijuana.

More drivers will drive high, not fully knowing the risks of using marijuana before getting behind the wheel. This puts everyone on the road at greater risk.”

Cathy Rossi

For example, recent data from Colorado shows that while proponents of marijuana commercialization acknowledge that drivers should not consume marijuana before driving, nearly 70 percent of cannabis consumers admit to driving high in 2017.”

Other reports show:

• Crashes are up by as much as 6 percent in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, compared with neighboring states that haven’t legalized marijuana for recreational use, new research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) shows.

• Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 66 percent in the four-year average (2013-2016) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana compared to the four-year average (2009-2012) prior to legalization — Governors Highway Safety Association, 2018

• Between 2005 and 2014, the proportion of Washington DUI and collision cases tested by toxicology that involved THC, excluding those positive for alcohol, increased significantly, from 20 percent to 30 percent. The median THC level increased significantly from 4.0 ng/mL in 2005 to 5.6 ng/mL. — Governors Highway Safety Association, 2018

Two years ago, Delaware’s 149th General Assembly considered similar legislation leading to several public forums, hearings and a task force to study the issue of legalizing marijuana in the First State. In addition to increased risk for traffic crashes, AAA Mid-Atlantic remains concerned about:

• Not just motorists at risk, legalization of marijuana increases risks to pedestrians. States that legalized and commercialized marijuana between 2012 and 2016 had a collective 16.4 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities in the first 6 (six) months of 2017 compared to the previous year while all other states experienced a 5.8 percent decrease (source: Pedestrian Fatalities by State: 2017 Preliminary Data, Feb., 2018 – Governors Highway Safety Administration)

• Unlike alcohol, there is no simple, accurate roadside test to measure impairment from marijuana. This does not mean that it has not been invented yet, it means it is not possible to measure impairment at the roadside because unlike alcohol, there is no scientific correlation between the concentration of ‘active THC’ (the psycho-active ingredient in marijuana) in the blood and a person’s level of impairment.

• Law enforcement does not have the tools or training needed to tackle marijuana-impaired driving — and funding alone will not resolve this challenge. Without a simple roadside measurement for impairment, law enforcement faces unique challenges when it comes to marijuana that do not exist for alcohol, challenges that require additional, costly, time-consuming training for a subset of officers classified as Drug Recognition Experts (DREs). (Source: “Small Delaware police departments struggle to stay fully staffed,” News Journal, May 9, 2019)

• Tax revenue estimates in several states are a fraction of the amount predicted. (Sources: “Pot bust: California dramatically cuts marijuana tax revenue projections,” Associated Press, May 9, 2019; “Marijuana taxes revenue welcome, but don’t make huge dent,” Gatehouse Media, May 8, 2019)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cathy Rossi is vice president of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic

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